Tim Roth is the first to admit that his career has not necessarily been by design. When it comes to choosing projects, "There shouldn't be any plan," attests the actor. "There just shouldn't be." Which is how Roth — a frequent collaborator of Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino and an Oscar nominee himself for 1995's Rob Roy — cultivated such an eclectic filmography over the past four decades. "That's my plan."
Since 2021, he has appeared in a total of nine films and TV series, none of which share much in common tonally or narratively: Bergman Island was a meditative drama. Resurrection was a psychological thriller. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings marked his return to the Marvel universe as Abomination. "I really like it this way because, when scripts do land on my desk, I have no idea what’s coming each time," Roth says. "It's quite a wild trip."
His latest role is in Punch, a New Zealand-set sports drama about an aspiring boxer's turbulent relationships with his alcoholic father (played by Roth) and a rebellious, gay classmate with whom he forges an unexpected bond. The film not only marks the feature debut of writer-director Welby Ings, but also the first-ever film for its two young leads, Jordan Oosterhof and Conan Hayes.
For Roth, the chance to get to work with the three on their first movie was part of the appeal. "I think it's really important for actors who have some experience to remember when they didn't," he says, "and also to be open to learning from the people who don't. I think that can be an incredible experience."
Below, Roth shares with A.frame five of the films that shaped his love of cinema and forever changed him as an actor.
Directed by: Alan Clarke | Written by: Bernard MacLaverty
Alan Clarke, who I did Made in Britain with, was the director who taught me about being on set and being in front of the camera. He liked to use Steadicams, and there was a film he'd made a few years before we worked together which really pushed right up against the limits of the Steadicam style at the time.
Elephant is only about 40 minutes long, but it's about Northern Ireland and a series of killings. I think there are about three lines of dialogue in the whole thing, and it's an extraordinary film. It was fascinating to watch. It was heartbreaking and very difficult, but on a cinematic level, it woke me up and really inspired me.
Directed by: Alan Clarke | Written by: Roy Minton
Speaking of Alan Clarke, there's another movie he did called Scum that's about the juvenile prison system. When I saw it, that was the film that made me decide on the spot, "I want to do that. I want to work on films like this." These films are all movies that really touched me in different ways, and Scum very much changed my life.
Directed by: Ken Loach | Written by: Barry Hines, Ken Loach and Tony Garnett
For a while, there was a tradition in film where stories about the working poor were portrayed by very posh people. I was happy to be part of the wave that broke that trend. In the case of Kes, the film shows you this boy's story that is desperately moving and very hard to watch, but which I think was brilliantly done by Ken. Kes was a game changer for a lot of people. It definitely changed my life, and it helped change British cinema for the better.
Directed by: Howard Hawks | Written by: Charles Lederer and Ben Hecht
On a dialogue and improvisational front, I would have to say His Girl Friday is very high up there for me. Rosalind Russell was just spectacular. It's shocking after you see it to learn that she was scared by the improvisational way that Cary Grant worked, because you would never believe she was nervous when you're watching it. It's an unbelievable performance. It's a fantastic film and it's a lot of fun, but it's very much Rosalind Russell who takes you on the journey throughout it.
Directed by: George Stevens | Written by: Ring Lardner Jr., John Lee Mahin and Michael Kanin
Watching Katharine Hepburn do her thing is always extraordinary, and you can't get a better screen duo than her and Spencer Tracy. It's extraordinary to watch them over the years. I love so many of their films, including Woman of the Year and Desk Set.
When you're working with younger actors — like I did on Punch — it's important to push them in the direction of movies like Kes and His Girl Friday and Woman of the Year so that they can see the huge chasm of tone and story that exists between them. It's also important for them to think about the people who were in those films and what they were trying to achieve, even with the studios raining down on them all the time. It's incredible, really.